Cover Watches and Accessibility of Ideas; 4 Patents That Predict What Rolex Is Up To
A dispatch hours before Watches and Wonders embargoes lift, exploring the concept of the 'Cover Watch', Rolex patents, and a gorgeous Cartier release
This week’s newsletter is Presented By Subdial, the trading platform for watch enthusiasts and collectors. We’ve been partnering with Subdial since the beginning of the year, and since we feature a watch from their weekly drop every week, it has been fun to follow the diverse weekly selection of vintage, independent, and pre-owned watches they manage to curate.
The power of Cover Watches, Adjacent Marketing, and Accessibility for New Collectors
By: Agaki (@agakistuff)
[Ed. note: Friend of Rescapement Agaki sent in this essay back in January. I finally got around to editing it last week, just before Swatch and Omega broke the internet with the MoonSwatch. So while it doesn’t directly reference the MoonSwatch, it’s kind of about the MoonSwatch, as you’ll see.]
Once in a while, an exceptional cover song is exalted into a status equal to or greater than the original. Johnny Cash’s, ‘Hurt’ or Amy Winehouse’s, ‘Valerie’. Jazz and blues standards and immortal songs make their way into the music lexicon like the re-telling of a fairytale. Sample-based songs transpose from one context to another. Christmas songs follow a vague set of rules that nobody can really define but we all just, ‘know’. (Please listen to ‘Christmas in Harlem’’ and 'Lights On’, Christmas Hip-Hop for the family). Covers and re-interpretations are at the very core of modern music. This concept of carrying ideas is something worth exploring in other fields.
From Breguet to Benzinger: A Bridge to Something New
Jaeger-Benzinger is an independent brand that hails from Baden-Baden, Germany. If you relate geographical locations by proximity to sports teams as I do, Baden-Baden is nearest to Karlsruher SC (notable for producing Oliver Kahn) and VfB Stuttgart (notable for that one time I helped a bunch of tourists in Stuttgart kits catch the train and being Bundesliga Champions in 2006-7). The Jaeger-Benzinger Edition 3.3 Vintage is a 38mm watch with a repurposed FHF 96 movement, hence the “vintage” in the name. The guilloche dial and engraved movement come courtesy of master engraver Jochen Benzinger.
For the description of the 3.3 Vintage Jaeger-Benzinger states the following:
“Jaeger & Benzinger have always been vocal about their love of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s style and, whereas with their other Editions this has been tempered with modern touches, this limited-edition Edition 3 Vintage is their unabashed take on this look.”
Is Jaeger-Benzinger an exceptional alternative to a Breguet? Yes. It’s a high-value proposition, hand-engraved independent watch. There’s nothing like it in this price range. For fun and at a little extra cost I had my initials engraved onto the movement. This increases resale value for people with the initials, ‘AB’. Or people with the rare AB blood-type. Or start-of-alphabet enthusiasts. Gotta think long term about my investment here right?
What’s more important than the watch is reflecting on why buying a watch like this is an essential step in building a watch collection. Especially to those early on in the lifetime journey of collecting watches.
Over a year ago a few things allowed me to finally dive into the Mariana Trench of watch collecting. I’d reached a comfortable place in my other collecting hobbies where I could pass on most things that came my way. The process of shedding my raggedy high school clothes and refreshing my wardrobe into some semblance of an adult was almost complete yet lacked... icing. A watch. I knew this was a rabbit hole. Yet, armed with a recent bump up in my pay I, as the kids say, yeeted myself into the world of watches.
The mission was to wholly upgrade my unbranded street-stall quartz watches. Maybe gain a fun new research-heavy hobby. But where does somebody with no real prior reference go? I don’t have a story about my grandfather’s father’s son’s military Patek/Rolex that survived the second Captain America: Civil War. My mom bought me cheap fake gold watches when I was a teenager because I liked gold, wearing things on my wrist and because she just thought they were neat. So to cross a bridge into something new, you have to find the bridge first right?
Contemporary fashion and celebrities are the path toward a watch addiction for a layman. What’s this ‘Patek’ thing I keep hearing in these bars? That watch that Nadal is wearing during a match is crazy, right? Young people need a modern icon to relate watches to. A ‘Nadal’ Richard Mille or ‘Federer’ Rolex is relatable. This “adjacent’” marketing is the quickest way to someone’s heart. The LVMH group are masters of this and you can read these choice words straight out of Jean-Claude Biver’s mouth.
As a brand, recontextualizing can expand your demographic even if your current core audience doesn’t appreciate it. You might not remember the Zenith x Lupin the Third collaboration series, an obscure collab to most but this was Zenith as a brand speaking my language. The first, unique example sold at auction for CHF189,000, so somebody else must speak my language too! Rolex has known this for an eternity. The entirety of Hublot marketing is built around this recontextualization idea with a lot of help from outside sources mixed in: ‘NEW WATCH ALERT, HUBLOTS.’ These bridge-building tactics (or, “gimmicks” if you’re a cynical no-fun type) are a way into a brand.
My way in as a streetwear-inclined guy originated from an image of a watch posted on the account of tastemaker @hidden.ny. Stopping my infinite feed scrolling and seeing an octagonal looking shiny thing I thought, ‘Hey this looks really really cool, this’ll be like $5,000 or something right? Guess I’ll save up.’ Google-fu led to this article on GQ, where I learned how “[streetwear brand] Alyx transformed the Royal Oak” and this shiny octagonal “Royal Oak” cost way more than $5,000. Sure, I didn’t know anything about Audemars Piguet, but I was somewhat familiar with Alyx. This led me down my first watch-related rabbit hole, eventually asking perhaps the most common question of a new watch collector: “This is great, but how can I not sell my kidney to get this?” The core of the classic newbie struggle planted the seed of a concept I’d like to dub the Cover Watch™.
Read the full article about the ‘Cover Watch’ and how to appreciate ideas and design languages beyond the ‘original’.
What Four Rolex Patents Tell Us About the Future of Watches
By: Owen Lawton
Every couple of months or so, someone in the tech media will publish an article relating to a large tech company such as Apple and a patent that they have filed for. The frequency of these articles tends to increase in the run-up to the launch of new products as speculation builds and predictions are made about the expected new releases.
While these are sometimes accurate about upcoming products, in other instances they can give clues to the direction of a company’s research and potential product plans. Usually, the article has a hyperbolic title with a claim that Apple plans to remove the notch from the next iPhone.
Little is ever written about the patents that watch companies and groups file for; however, it can provide interesting insights into the future of the industry. Whether or not the patents ever get used is a different story, but it is fun to speculate about the future.
Very briefly, a patent is a legal agreement between an inventor and a government whereby the government will grant the sole right of that invention for a fixed period to the inventor, in exchange for the invention being disclosed. The invention is protected for a fixed period of time, it is added to the collective human knowledge and is shared for others to make progress on.
From the perspective of a government, this provides a greater incentive for innovation, and from the inventor the knowledge that they can use their invention within the region without competition.
In the context of watches, many inventions are patented and some are well documented. Some of the more famous examples include Borgel’s waterproof case and Breguet’s tourbillon patent. In the case of the Borgel waterproof case, the patent drove others to find solutions to the waterproofing of a watch case without infringing on his patent.
Now for the exercise in analysis and speculation. Below are four patents from Rolex published in 2021 that are either in current watches or could be seen in new watches soon.
Alignable Screw Down Crown (US 11199815B2)
To the non-watch enthusiasts, a Rolex is considered by many as the epitome of luxury and as such it should be perfect. Yet there is often one glaring error. The cornet doesn’t rest vertically on the crown when screwed in. Omega has their Naiad Lock system for ensuring the case back is always screwed on straight to the back of their watches after services that works in a similar way to a lens on a camera body.
Rolex already has a system for this issue but it is only used on the precious metal Skydweller. In order to achieve the aligned crown on the Skydweller, there is a system inside the crown that is likely difficult to justify across the whole catalogue due to its complexity. This patent provides a solution to the crown problem by allowing watchmakers to quickly adjust the orientation of the crown, allowing it to be added to the whole catalogue.
The system works by a nut (75 in the figure above) threading onto the crown tube 8. The nut can then be adjusted to move the crown tube clockwise or counterclockwise to rotate the pattern on the crown without sacrificing the seal between crown and crown tube. This way, the Rolex logo can be straight on every watch.
In this patent, Rolex describes the issue of not straight crowns as “obviously unacceptable when these crowns are fitted in luxury and high-quality products,” indicating the seriousness of the issue as Rolex continues to move to position itself as the face of the luxury watch market.
It may be that it is a system already in current production Rolex watches or it might appear in the not too distant future. As it is such a small change in their pursuit of perfection, it is unlikely that it is a feature Rolex would announce and more likely a subtle change that occurs over time and as watches return for service.
‘Elastic’ Clasp Closure (US2021045503A1)
Innovations in the clasp in recent years have centered around making micro-adjust systems more convenient to use without removing the watch from the user’s wrist. This patent though discloses a clasp system where the friction “click” that closes the clasp is elasticated.
Traditionally, a clasp on a bracelet closes with either a clicking sound from a friction fit or the snapping shut of button-activated teeth around a pin. For added security a safety-locking mechanism might fold over the top of the clasp to ensure if the main clasp locking mechanism fails, the watch doesn’t immediately fall off the user’s wrist and smash on the floor.
The patent then goes on to explain that this type of elastic articulation between components can be used anywhere in a watch bracelet and details the use of this concept in a micro-adjustment system inside a clasp.
This system appears to make the current Glidelock system easier to use as it is assisted by a spring compared to the friction fit runners inside the clasp cover of the past. The announcement of such a system to be featured in new watch clasps isn’t expected; however, like the earlier elasticated end link of the clasp, keep an eye out for it in modern Rolex watches.
This part of the patent appears to be the micro-adjustment system that was featured in the Tudor Black Bay 58 Bronze in 2021. In analyzing these patents it is worth remembering that Rolex also protects features on Tudor watches and could use Tudor to test concepts before launching them in their own watches. The announcement of such a system to be featured in new watch clasps isn’t expected; however, like the earlier elasticated end link of the clasp, keep an eye out for it in modern Rolex watches.
See the full article for two more patents that hint at Rolex’s extensive research and development efforts.
This week’s newsletter is presented by Subdial, the ultimate trading platform for watch enthusiasts and collectors. Every week, we feature one of the watches from their weekly drop.
A week into the spring season, it’s only fitting to feature the Grand Seiko SBGA 413 from this week’s Subdial drop. Grand Seiko seems to release great dials on an almost weekly basis, but this spring-inspired SBGA413 is still my favorite Grand Seiko release of the past few years. The pink tones of the dial are very subtle, but manage to be picked up in exciting, vibrant ways in certain lights. The dial’s serene nature is perfectly suited to the Spring Drive’s completely smooth seconds hand. To me, it’s the only Grand Seiko dial that’s definitely better than the Snowflake.
Visit Subdial for more on this Grand Seiko ‘Spring’ SBGA 413 or check out the full selection of Cartier, Kurono Tokyo, Rolex, and more from this week’s drop.
THROUGH THE WIRE
18 Special Cartiers. I haven’t stopped drooling over the 18 unique Cartiers for the Singapore Watch Club since I saw this video last week. Six of Cartier’s best shapes, featured in three metals. Sure, Jake Gyllenhal was teasing the new (this newsletter is firmly team Taylor, to be clear).
“Russian agents seized millions of dollars worth of Audemars Piguet watches in Moscow in an apparent retaliation for Swiss sanctions banning luxury goods exports.” (h/t Strictly Vintage Watches).
Making the perfect dress watch. A data-driven analysis of perhaps my favorite dress watch, the IWC caliber 89. The cal. 89 is one of the most consequential movements of the 21st century, introduced in IWC’s military-driven Mark series, but also used in its dress watches for decades. It came in dozens of variations over the years, and analyst Marcus Siems does the math to show us what it looked like.
A new way to read newsletters. Substack, the platform we use to publish the Rescapement newsletter, launched a new iOS app. It’s great if you subscribe to a lot of newsletters, and you can also add normal RSS feeds to it, a la old-school Google Reader for those who remember.
TickTock. Tried to make a TikTok about the MoonSwatch madness. Didn’t go viral (not yet, at least).